2006-08-18

Debian Misconceptions

As a follow-up from my previous post, Is Gentoo becoming more like Debian? I unfairly treated Debian as an outdated distribution without proving the full facts.

A friend of mine (who knows the OS much better than I do), provided me with a more realistic insight into the misconceptions of Debian being an outdated distribution.

He writes:


"Debian isn't really outdated. This is really bad misconception.

And the misconception stems from the fact that those who don't know Debian believe Debian is just one GNU/Linux distribution. It's not.

Debian is in fact several different distributions.

The main one's of which are Debian GNU/Linux Stable, Debian GNU/Linux Testing and Debian GNU/Linux Unstable (for the purposes of this article, I'll here on in call them Stable, Testing and Unstable respectively). Other Debian distributions include GNU/Linux Experimental, GNU/Linux Frozen and even GNU/Hurd, but they are not as widely used by Debian users and are not central to my point).

Which one of the main three you choose is depending on what you require from your software distribution.

Unstable is a developer's playground. Unstable is where new packages are introduced in to the system by the Debian Developers. It is considered bleeding-edge, as it receives new functionality (new software versions) daily. While the quality of Debian software is generally very good, sometimes Unstable breaks in bad ways (e.g. loss of data, or requiring you to rebuild the machine). If you must have the latest and greatest of every application version on your computer, regardless of the fact that your machine might get hosed every now and again, use Unstable and be prepared to fix your machine if it breaks.


Testing is a good trade off between the latest applications and better quality then Unstable. Packages are only introduced in to Testing after 12 days of no one reporting a bug in the Unstable package.
This means that when Testing breaks, it's usually a trivial part of the system rather than debilitating the whole system. It's not an absolute guarantee, but the Debian Developers and Users are usually pretty good about noticing problems in Unstable before they get moved in to Testing. If you want a reasonable amount of quality and mostly up to date application versions, Testing can balance this trade-off quite well.

Finally, let me dispell a final myth about Debian software. Stable is indeed updated frequently but with a catch, only for bug fixes. Once a new version of Stable is released, the only reason it will receive an update is to correct security flaws that are discovered in its software. And while this means that no new software functionality is added, it also means you get really good quality software that is frequently updated for security problems. If you require really good quality software with as little downtime for breakages as possible (say on production servers that run 24x7), Stable is what you want.

So yes, while Debian Stable has fewer functionality upgrades than Gentoo, it is actually desirable to be so. Stable means to be (like the name says), stable. If you want more up to date software, you may wish to consider Testing or Unstable depending on your proficiency or willingness to fix breakages.

And now you know that Debian is updated constantly - just with different caveats attached depending on which of the Debian distributions you choose.

P.S. More information on Debian release cycles and Debian distribution goals can be found at Debian’s website (http://www.debian.org/releases/). If you wish to know how Testing becomes Stable, follow the links on that page to the Debian FAQ."


Thanks go out to Spods for providing an insight into this issue.
Till next time.

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